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County Port Authority made sensible fiscal decision

In December, the Port Authority of Allegheny County received millions of dollars in supplemental funding. In January, it announced a 15 percent service cut. It sounds contradictory, but represents the best financial planning we have seen from the authority in recent years.

The Port Authority has been requiring regular bailouts since long before the term made its appearance in the national conversation. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell repeatedly sent emergency funding to the Port Authority to help it survive 2004, 2005, and 2006. In 2007, the Allegheny County Council passed the infamous alcoholic beverage tax for the transit agency’s benefit. And the governor came to the rescue again last year with another $45 million.

Last year’s emergency money would have been enough to keep the Port Authority funded at current service levels until June, but then the cycle of begging and bailouts would only have begun again — this time with incoming Gov. Tom Corbett and a new state legislature barely settled into their offices in Harrisburg. Furthermore, with the state government facing its own $4 billion projected budget deficit, it is unlikely that anyone in Harrisburg would be able to address the Port Authority crisis in a reasonable manner this year. Without help, the authority would be forced to cut bus service by more than a third.

Faced with that uninviting picture, the Port Authority instead made the sound decision to stretch out Rendell’s current $45 million for an extra year by announcing a smaller round of service cuts for March. This gives both the county and the state government until July 2012 to devise a long-term solution to the Port Authority’s consistent woes.

If anything is clear, it is that the transit authority, county, and state must find a long-term solution. While any transit cuts now are certainly frustrating, the Port Authority cannot indefinitely maintain a miserable existence by subsisting on year-to-year emergency bailouts. Though we may grumble when our 71A takes longer to arrive or when the 28X goes through Robinson again come March, we should accept the inconvenience if it means our buses will continue to come at all.